Does social media lead vulnerable individuals to resort to violence? Many people believe it does. And they respond with online censorship, surveillance and counter-speech. But what do we really know about the Internet as a cause, and what do we know about the impact of these reactions? All over the world, governments and Internet companies are making decisions on the basis of assumptions about the causes and remedies to violent attacks. The challenge is to have analysis and responses firmly grounded. The need is for a policy that is constructed on the basis of facts and evidence, and no founded on hunches – or driven by panic and fearmongering.
It is in this context that UNESCO has commissioned the study titled Youth and Violent Extremism on Social Media – Mapping the Research. This work provides a global mapping of research (mainly during 2012-16) about the assumed roles played by social media in violent radicalization processes, especially when they affect youth and women. The research responds to the belief that the Internet at large is an active vector for violent radicalization that facilitates the proliferation of violent extremist ideologies. Indeed, much research shows that protagonists are indeed heavily spread throughout the Internet. There is a growing body of knowledge about how terrorists use cyberspace. Less clear, however, is the impact of this use, and even more opaque is the extent to which counter measures are helping to promote peaceful alternatives. While Internet may play a facilitating role, it is not established that there is a causative link between it and radicalization towards extremism, violent radicalization, or the commission of actual acts of extremist violence.
Authors: Séraphin Alava, Divina Frau-Meigs , Ghayda Hassan